This week's X-Files 2 release will have everyone wanting to believe in vast government conspiracies. But Cigarette-Smoking Man isn't the only shadowy villain by far. Authors like Philip K. Dick and Margaret Atwood were feeding us conspiracies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner before The X-Files was even on the air. We've collected some of the best conspiracy stories in science fiction, just in case you find yourself hungry for more after your dose of X-Files tonight.A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick The main character of this well-known novel can't get enough of Substance D, a psychoactive drug that's also known as Slow Death. It turns out that even his dealer works for the government and has been part of a police operation all along — and even more surprisingly, he finds Substance D grow fields at his rehab clinic. Dick never reveals the true source of the dangerous drug, but his hints on the subject are the staples of conspiracy theory fiction: evil Communists, evil aliens, evil government, or evil corporations.
The Invisibles by Grant Morrison
Drug use and conspiracy theory stories go hand-in-hand, it seems. Morrison wrote The Invisibles after an incredible hallucinogenic experience in Kathmandu — one he originally attributed to alien abduction. He later learned to just blame the drugs, and so The Invisibles became the most psychadelic comic ever, filled with swearing, bright colors, and wild characters. The protagonist of the first volume, Dane McGowan, is plucked from his life as a petty thief and sent to a corrupt juvenile detention center. After his rescue, the vast conspiracies surrounding everything in his life begin to reveal themselves, and he teams up with the eclectic Invisibles to discover more and more about the vast suffering of humanity.
Dark City, written by Alex Proyas, Lem Dobbs, and David S. Goyer
In 1998, a revolutionary sci-fi film noir hit cinema screens. It began with a man waking up at a murder scene in a city that never sees daylight, a man who's unable to remember who he is or how he got there. As he's trying to find answers, he discovers that the world is not at all what it seems, and that a group of mysterious figures called the Strangers are controlling human reality. There's a conspiracy for ya. Luckily, this man possesses the ability to change reality, or "tune," as well, and so puts up a good fight so he can escape to a better world with his wife. The Matrix, written by Andy and Larry Wachowski
A year after Dark City's release came The Matrix, which was far more successful — the stories are similar, but there's a lot more gunplay and leather in the Wachowski brothers' version. The Matrix certainly offered us a very good reason to be paranoid: It's possible that aliens have invaded, subjugating all of humanity by convincing us that our lives are progressing as normal. The chilling reality, that humans are harvested for energy and fed with the dead matter of their own species, is one of the scariest sequences in film. Plus, the simulated reality that most humans believe is nothing more than a computer program, and the stewards of that program are stony-faced agents who have all the power. That is, until a cute computer hacker shows up to save us all. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Often thought of as a sequel to her also fabulous dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale, Oryx and Crake is a scathing criticism of current society. She portrays the 21st century as a world dominated by international corporations who subjugate their employees, a world where even children watch live executions on the internet, a world where humanities and the arts are vilified in favor of fields like biotechnology and engineering. The Crakers, human-like creatures who also inhabit this world, have a mysterious origin — and at the end of the book, Atwood reveals that they were created by a giant corporation's genetic engineering experiment. In the end, the creator of the Crakers also launches a genetically engineered virus that kills almost all of the humans; it's quite a formidable cautionary tale about the dangers of corporations with too much power. Dreadful Sanctuary by Eric Frank Russell
1948 saw the release of perhaps the first major conspiracy novel in science fiction, Russell's Dreadful Sanctuary. In his story, a secret society keeps the rest of humankind from discovering or contacting alien life. After several failed missions to space, it seems that Earth is being quarantined by the universal community; in fact, however, the secret society is simply spreading that illusion to control the population. Dreadful Sanctuary was originally serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, but Russell rewrote it to publish it as a paperback novel in 1967 — just two years before humans successfully reached the moon. Thank goodness no one's stopping us from space exploration in real life ... or are they? Whether it's Communists, Russians, our own government, or an extraterrestrial one, fears of hidden and powerful villains will probably never end. As ridiculous as conspiracy theory stories may sound sometimes, they're necessary for a society that wants to give its average, ordinary members some level of control. After all, nobody likes totalitarianism, except perhaps totalitarian leaders.